The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Friday, July 28, 2006

De Montfort's True Devotion to Mary

(Note: Here begins a series that will further my own sense of megalomania and will give very bored individuals with nothing else better to do a way to get to know me better. In the following series, I will discuss, somewhat in chronological order, the ten books that have most formed me as a person. This is the first in the series.)

Part I: Because It's Okay to Play Don Quixote

My mother had to nag me into visiting a sick mutual friend of ours that I had not seen in over ten years. Yes, I know, with all this theological knowledge swishing around in my head, I should know all about the corporal works of mercy. But I am naturally a very shy person, so I had to be coaxed into doing it by myself.

I knew where the place was since I had been there so often before. As a teenager, I was an auxiliary member of the now defunct Legion of Mary here in Hollister, and I used to go with my mother and a blind saint named Genevieve to visit the people in this nursing home. There I learned much about suffering and compassion, and how our society likes to dispose of people who are old, useless, and unpleasant to look at. When I returned this time, it seemed a much more sanitary and brighter place. I would like to think that conditions had changed, but who knows? I came unwittingly when my friend was having her supper. It was rather awkward, since I don't think she recognized me, although her sister who was with her did. I didn't stay long because the whole situation was rather strange, and I wanted to leave my friend to eat her dinner in peace.

The whole experience took me back to my formative years as a teenager, and my part as the last young hold-out in my parish to cling to the "old ways". Not that I remembered them, but my mother to some extent and my Legion of Mary praesidium were the last great bastion of traditional Roman Catholicism left in that church, and we were a bit of a thorn in the side of the liberal priests, though I might be exaggerating this a bit. The foundation of the Legion of Mary, as you may know, is St. Louis de Montfort's True Devotion to Mary. This book, along with the writings of St. Alphonsus de Ligouri and St. Peter Eymard, gave me a strong sense of what the traditional spirituality of the Roman Catholic Church was. It also caused a whole lot of confusion in my life since I saw that times had changed and I couldn't explain why. To this day I can't.

When you are young, you are very impressionable. These books gave me a vision of what the Church had been: an incarnational religion that passed on traditions from one generation to the next. They gave me a sense of the inevitability of death, repentance, true love and eternal life. In a way, reflecting on these things at the age of fourteen "deformed" me as a person: I was far too serious far too young. These issues, however, cannot be avoided. I soon found myself, even in the context of the Church, as a fish out of water. During our confirmation "classes" the only thing we ever talked about were social issues: teen pregnancy, suicide, drug abuse, etc. Never once did we talk about doctrine or even Christ. It was a schizophernic world I inhabited as a pious youth, and eventually I fell away from the Faith completely.

It has taken me most of my thinking life to finally figure out that the Church I had envisioned as a teenager no longer exists and probably never did. I used to sit in our 130 year old church and try and imagine what it was like before they ripped down most of the statues, the communion rail, and the high altar. I used to marvel at how mysterious and beautiful it must have been. Now, having talked to people from that era and knowing what I know about theology and liturgy, I no longer entertain such childhood fantasies. These were the products of reading too many romanticist books. In that way, I was just like the man from La Mancha, who decided to start slaying imaginary beasts throughout the peaceful countryside. Life is not what happens in books. And it has never been that way.

Now I worship in the same church as an Anglican, and even though I am appreciative of my first years as a triumphalist Roman Catholic, I am glad that I have finally put away that over-the-top, hyper-pious sensibility for something more sober, more realistic, and more beautiful.


At 11:21 AM, Blogger Sean Roberts said...

I look forward to further entries in this series, Arturo!

At 5:13 AM, Blogger Young fogey emeritus said...

Well written as always, Arturo!

I got my faith through some of the same means but haven't really given up on it - I simply know where not to look for it anymore (mainstream RC). And among some Anglo-Catholics I've seen it done so I know it isn't imaginary.

The conflict you describe (not what 'schizophrenic' literally means BTW, FYI) between the true faith described in those books and the mainstream 'yoof' ministry about drugs and peer pressure (very ’70s that) was one reason I couldn't stick mainstream RC and didn't stay very long (on and off less than four years of my life and I'll be 40 this year!).

Like you I tried the Legion of Mary as a lad and had very similar experiences! No, it wasn't a good substitute for what I was really looking for (that church you found in books).

And like you I far prefer the sober Mass-and-office piety of certain kinds of old-school Anglicanism to the devotional hysteria of that pocket of the RC world.

That you worship in your old parish church as a continuing Anglican may be still more evidence of a divine sense of humour.

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